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Economic war over electric cars

Economic war over electric cars

High powered drama in the corporate world as three senior Renault execs are accused of industrial espionage. Iman Kurdi of Arab News explains why this really can be called an economic war.

January 9, 2011 1:53 by

Three senior executives at Renault, the French car manufacturer, have been suspended on charges of industrial espionage.

You might not think it much of a story, neither did I at first, but consider this: Eric Besson, France’s industry minister, has called it an act of “economic war”!

Economic war? It made me chuckle. Besson is an attention-seeking politician, his choice of words seemed deliberately colorful, an exaggeration designed to get him the spotlight. But then I read up. The leaked information concerns technology Renault has been developing for electric cars. Renault is staking its future on electric cars, predicting that by 2020 they will account for 10 percent of the global market. In turn, the automotive industry is a key sector of the French economy, and one that employs more than a 100,000 people. Consequently the stakes are pretty high. What is more, this morning it was revealed that the French secret service suspects that Chinese elements are behind the espionage. Suddenly Besson’s “war” did not seem so inappropriate a word, and economic war not such a meaningless concept.

At the Paris motor show last October, electric cars were all the rage. Jaguar showed off their C-X75, an electric supercar that had even non-environmentally-minded enthusiasts salivating. The Jag was only an experimental vehicle, but plenty of production vehicles were also on show. Some were small city cars much like the futuristic looking Kia Pop or the distincly odd-looking Peugeot Bb1; others were more racy like the Tesla roadsters and some were electric versions of petrol models we already know — like Volvo’s electric C30 or the Mercedes Benz A-class E-cell.

But the company that had the most electric models on show was Renault. It stole the show with its fantastic DeZir concept car, a sexy two-door coupé with scissor doors and a top speed of 112 mph. Its Japanese arm Nissan showed the Townpod, a somewhat more practical vehicle, as well as versions of the recently commercialized Nissan Leaf. Renault also showed new versions of its Twizy, a mad-looking two-seater city car and the Fluence ZE, an electric version of its Fluence sedan as well as the Zoe Z.E., a vehicle the size of a Clio.

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